What's the price of a Friend? About pounds 2.5m, apparently

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They may be "there for us when the rain starts to fall" but their jobs are no longer a joke and they are certainly not broke. The cast of Friends have just signed a deal for pounds 2.5m per episode.

The contract could make the series, featuring six impossibly hip New Yorkers hanging out in a trendy cafe, the most expensive in television history.

Hollywood trade papers yesterday reported that the hit comedy's US network has finally agreed to pay pounds 2.5m per show - the previous figure was about pounds 625,000.

This should keep the cast, who threatened to walk-out last year after a row over their salaries, happy to be there for each other for at least a few more episodes.

However, since the programme was first aired, casting directors and advertisers have been falling over themselves to sign up the actors, who were all pretty much unknown before Friends came along.

Jennifer Aniston, whose role as the spoilt Jewish princess, Rachel, is secondary to her legendary haircut, is currently starring in a couple of television advertisements, as well as lining up the film roles.

Her co-stars, Courtney Cox, better known as Monica, the control-freak chef, and Lisa Kudrow, who plays the ditzy masseuse Phoebe, have also landed parts in films. Cox most recently played a bitch TV reporter in Wes Craven's latest shlock-horror movie, Scream.

Kudrow, who latest role is playing another loveable airhead in Romy and Michelle's High School Reunion, is already afraid of being typecast.

As for the boys, David Schwimmer, the lovable palaeontologist Ross, Matthew Perry, arguably the cast member who gets the best lines as Chandler, and Matt le Blanc, who plays the irrepressible but dim-witted Joey, the offers have flooded in.

Schwimmer was the first Friend to test the movie waters in Pallbearer (a flop) but he is now turning his hand to directing, before returning to the other side of the camera in a film with Sir Ian McKellen, no less.

Unfortunately for Le Blanc, life seems to be imitating art as he has been struggling as much as Joey to land a starring role. But he is hoping that will change when he teams up with Gary Oldman for a movie version of Lost in Space.

Finally Perry, who has admitted to drug problems, has just netted a cool pounds 1m for the romantic comedy Fools Rush In. It's a far cry from the days when, as Rachel would say, they were all searching for "one of those job things". Kate Watson-Smyth

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